It wasn’t the immensity of the birdbath-sized shrimp cocktail that wowed us. It wasn’t the side plate of spaghetti and ravioli that impressed us the most, either. And it wasn’t even the steak and baked potato that were served on two plates because it couldn’t all fit onto one.
It was the “relish tray” at Barclay’s II Supper Club that knocked us over. We were expecting, well, relish. Instead, a platter of fresh vegetables, pickles, cold cuts and cheese was set precariously on our table, there being little room left for more food.
It was suppertime at Barclay’s, an Anaconda, Mont., institution and a place for some of the biggest food in the world. It’s a unique, family-run, windowless supper club that’s packed every night with visitors and locals, alike, all of whom have heard legendary tales of the hugeness of the meals and the friendliness of the service.
So shrimp cocktail, salad, relish tray, Porterhouse steak (perfectly cooked medium-rare), baked potato (with a twirly tray of bacon bits, chives and sour cream right out of the 1960s), vegetables, spaghetti, ravioli and ice cream: US$26. Bottle of excellent Washington cabernet: US$24. Montana pricing: gotta love it.
Montana. Big Sky Country. Low price country. So close, yet so different and unknown to many of us. Montana is the neighbour we rarely think about, the big guy next door who never bothers us. But it’s still part of a foreign country, the land of greenbacks, cheap shopping and “open carry” gun regulations. The perfect place for a Calgarian to visit on a road trip.
So we loaded our golf clubs and appetites into the Camry and took a week-long circle tour to four of Montana’s cities closest to us: Great Falls, Butte (with Anaconda on the side), Missoula and Whitefish. What we found was four lovely – and very different – areas, each with its own charm and attractions.
A hearty day’s drive south of Calgary – including a border crossing at Coutts-Sweetgrass – brings us to the bustling city of Great Falls (population 58,950). Named for the nearby Missouri River waterfalls, Great Falls is notable for the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and the C. M. Russell Museum, both havens for western history buffs. The interpretive centre, wedged into the banks of the Missouri, tells the tale of the American explorers’ journey west in the early 1800s. Meanwhile, the Russell Museum showcases many of Charlie Russell’s famous western canvasses.
For the ultimate in kitsch, a cool beverage on the turquoise naugahyde seats at the Sip ‘n Dip Tiki Lounge in the O’Haire Motor Inn is essential. Go when the mermaid show is on (Thursday through Saturday, 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.), especially if Piano Pat is tinkling the ivories. Don’t ask, just go.
Stay: Staybridge Suites, 201 3 St. N.W., 406-761-4903, staybridge.com
Eat: Bert & Ernie’s Tavern & Grill, Dante’s Creative Cuisine, Faster Basset Coffee
Butte & Anaconda
The Hummingbird Cafe in Butte has a breakfast and lunch menu with dishes that use ingredients from Western Montana. Photo by Josie Trudgeon
A road trip to Montana is not complete without a visit to the copper boom town of Butte. A rollicking town of 60,000 in 1920, it was filled with bars and brothels, many of which still exist (the buildings, that is, not the businesses). Uptown Butte’s historic district, which includes part of the huge Anaconda pit mine, is a revelation of the boom-and-bust cycle of frontier cities. And motorcycle buffs should check out the annual Evel Knievel Days in July.
The town of Anaconda itself is located 40 kilometres west of Butte. A source of coal and the smelting location for much of Butte’s copper, the two cities are linked in history. Anaconda’s 178-metre-tall smokestack is a visible landmark for miles, and the old coal strip mine has been reclaimed as a Jack Nicklaus golf course. (It uses black, recycled coal slag in its sand traps.)
And then there’s Barclay’s with its friendly service and large portions.
Stay: Hickory House Inn, 218 East Park, Anaconda, 406-563-5481, hickoryhouseinn.com
Eat: Barclay’s II Super Club (Anaconda), Hummingbird Cafe (Butte)
Golf: Old Works Golf Course, Anaconda
Missoula is considered Montana’s culture capital.Photo by Donnie Sexton
The 150-km drive from Butte to Missoula takes you from a mountain mining town to a lively college city. The University of Montana brings thousands of young people to Missoula every year, so the city is dotted with coffee houses, bars and pizza parlours. It also has a busy arts scene with the Missoula Art Museum, the Montana Museum of Arts and Culture and numerous cultural festivals throughout the year. (We caught the International Wildlife Film Festival at the historic Roxy Theatre.)
Located at the convergence of five mountain ranges, and with the Clark Fork and Bitterroot Rivers running through the city, Missoula is also a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
Stay: Red Lion Inn, 700 West Broadway, 406-728-3300, redlion.com
Eat: Biga Pizza, Red Bird, Catalyst Cafe, The Big Dipper
Golf: Canyon River Golf Course
Sweet Peaks Ice Cream in Whitefish serves 16 artisan flavours, including cupcake and ranch dressing. Photo by Donnie Sexton
A playground for many Calgarians, Whitefish is blessed with a beautiful mountain setting that offers excellent skiing, hiking and golfing. A recreation community, Whitefish keys on its small-town (population just over 6,000) tone and friendliness to attract visitors. It also has some fine restaurants and boutique shops.
Stay: Lodge at Whitefish Lake, 1380 Wisconsin Ave., 406-863-4000, lodgeatwhitefishlake.com
Eat: Sweet Peaks, Loula’s
Golf: Whitefish Lake Golf Club